Many people have been very excited about this last week’s scientific advance in creating cells that act like embryonic stem cells from skin cells. The enthusiasm about this discovery surrounds the possibility that embryos might not have to be destroyed to develop stem cells, which would remove the political controversy about stem cell research.

Unfortunately, at this moment, many scientists and the advocates of removing President Bushes current ban on developing embryonic stem cell lines, say that at this juncture these cells can not replace embryonic stem cells in scientific research. They claim that it is too early to assess the viability of the new method. Simply put, it is still unknown if the new process can actually be substituted for traditional embryonic stem cells. We will only know as time and research progress.

Many advocates of embryonic stem cell research do consider this new methodology as a significant scientific development, but they all warn that the process will require further examination and testing. They feel this new process should currently be viewed only as a complement to, not a replacement for, embryonic stem cell research.

The political firestorm over this matter will continue to burn. The differing views on this matter will persist to underscore the political and ethical divide that separates those who view embryonic stem cell research as a vital and promising avenue for development and the social conservatives who liken the destruction of human embryos to abortion and murder.

The issue will continue to surface on the presidential campaign trail. Last June President Bush vetoed a bill that would have lifted the restrictions on stem cell research. Both Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama have stated they would lift the ban if elected, and on the Republican side, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney found himself accused of flip-flopping because he had supported the research as governor, but now opposed it as a presidential candidate.

This issue has touched many states. Missouri and New Jersey both have had voter ballt issues on providing state support for stem cell research.

Stem cells do hold out the possibility for the development of treatments for many diseases, including possibly cancer. However, it remains a politically loaded issue which will be fought about for many years to come.

Joel T Nowak MA, MSW